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LongRead – Abubakar Malami: Rise and rise of Nigeria’s Minister of (In)Justice

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Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), is one appointee of President Muhammadu Buhari whose emergence since 2015 has been dogged by controversies.

His appointment further exposed the contradictions entrenched in the ancient tradition of weaving the two offices of Minister and Attorney-General together in one person.

By design, the double portfolio demands exceptional brilliance, formidable legal intellect and unimpeachable character; someone the rest of the judiciary looks up to for leadership, guidance, and direction.

Malami has arguably bestrode the office with less panache, leaving in his wake actions that have tended to query his competencies and integrity.

How well Malami has acquitted himself is subject of this essay which chronicles his rise to fame and infamy!

Journey to infamy

The Kebbi State-born AGF started his journey to infamy sometime in 2015, shortly after his appointment, when he reportedly hopped on a chartered jet to Dubai to meet up with the former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, who had been declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for allegedly embezzling billions of naira belonging to Nigerian pensioners.

When the National Assembly got wind of the nocturnal visit and began investigating Maina, Malami rushed with an ex-parte application to the court to halt the investigation.

He later claimed he had gone to Dubai to meet up with Maina mainly to gather ‘information’ on former President Goodluck Jonathan, adding that the so-called ‘information’ he obtained from Maina had ‘saved Nigeria over N1.3tn’, though he did not tender any proof of such.

Months later, Malami was to mastermind the re-instatement of Maina into the Federal Civil Service and promoted to a higher position without the knowledge of the Head of Service of the Federation.

Malami also got himself enmeshed in the Malabu Oil Deal, a colossal scandal involving the disposal of one of Nigeria’s oil blocks, the OPL 245, which began in 2011.

The controversial oil block was allegedly sold to Shell and Agip Eni from Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, a firm which allegedly had ties to some Nigerian politicians including former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and then Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke.

Malami’s intervention came in the form of a detailed letter to President Buhari seeking authority to drop the case on the grounds of national security which was rejected by the President.

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Perhaps, the most celebrated controversy till date is his questionable role in the ouster of Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, where he pulled all the stunts and did not stop at anything until he had his supposed stooge, Abdulrasheed Bawa, installed.

Malami had accused Magu of every imaginable sin, including insubordination, diversion of recovered funds, among others.
It was glaring that he was not comfortable having him as the EFCC Chairman, and the subsequent power play was deliberately instigated to strip the anti-graft agency of independence and make it an appendage of his office.

Till date, the litany of allegations leveled against Magu are best kept secrets, given the shoddy job made of his hidden trials and failure to make judicial pronouncements on his supposed sins.

It is, therefore, tempting to ask: Why has the outcome of the Justice Ayo Salami panel that investigated Magu’s alleged misdemeanours not been implemented and Magu charged to court?

Bagful of allegations

An attempt was made in June 2019 to drag Malami before a disciplinary panel of the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee to face petitioners seeking the stripping of his Senior Advocate of Nigeria rank for alleged misconduct. The exercise failed, and Malami remains a Senior Advocate of Nigeria(SAN).

In May 2021, he was summoned to appear before a House Committee to answer for suspected diversion of recovered laundered money intended for the consolidated revenue account along with other alleged improprieties.

Among others, Malami was accused of improperly funding the office budget with around N800b of recovered looted money by several lawmakers, including the Chairman of the Committee, Adejoro Adeogun.

He promptly denied his office ever received any money from the recovered money, and was supported by the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, who claimed that the consolidated revenue account and recovered loot account were all subsets of the same Treasury Single Account making it appear as if the funds were transferred to the AGF office.

The House Committee also queried Malami over a reported illegal N2b payment from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and an alleged request by him for “payment of approved solicitors’ fees” from the recovered loot account.

Again, he denied requesting payments from the recovered loot account.

In 2018, some civil society organizations, including the Civil Society Network Against Corruption, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, and Say No Campaign, wrote a petition to Buhari against Malami wherein they listed a series of allegations and urged the President to institute a panel to probe him.

In the petition, the CSOs noted, among others, that:

“The AGF authorized the sale of seized vessels by the EFCC over offences of illegal bunkering.
“The minister also barred the prosecution of the former Comptroller-General of Customs, Mohammed Inde Dikko, through a suspicious deal between him and the immediate past DSS Director on one side, and Dikko to refund $8 million to the Federal Government.

“The case was discontinued as the trial judge refused to allow further prosecution of the matter under the guise that Dikko had kept his promise under the agreement by refunding N1,576,000,000 and more to the FG through the EFCC funds recovery account in the CBN

“Some of the properties listed in Malami’s name were a multimillion naira Rayhaan Hotels worth about N500m, located opposite Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Zaria Road, Kano State; a property worth about N600m located at Ahmadu Bello Way, Nasarawa GRA, Kano

“Others include a newly constructed school at the back of NITEL at Gesse Phase 1, Birni-Kebbi, worth about N700m; a multi-million Naira property built by Malami for his son located at Gesse Phase II in Birni-Kebbi, worth over N400 million; a mansion known as Azbir Arena allegedly built by Malami for his second son; Azbir Arena, an entertainment centre worth over N3b, with a big plaza and kids playing centre and hotel, all combined in one expansive property.”

‘Constituted authority’

In December 2020, Malami took on the National Assembly (NASS) when he insisted that they lacked the “constitutional power to envisage or contemplate a situation where the President would be summoned on the operational use of the Armed Forces.”

This was in reaction to the NASS inviting Buhari to appear before it to brief lawmakers on the security challenges rocking the country.

But in a statement knocking the lawmakers into order, Malami stated that the constitution gave the President exclusive rights over security and cannot be summoned by lawmakers.

“As the Commander in Chief, the President has exclusivity on security and has confidentiality over security. These powers and rights he does not share. So, by summoning the President on National Security operational Matters, the House of Representatives operated outside constitutional bounds,” Malami said, among others.

Even for colleagues, Malami has not spared a moment to tongue-lash them for perceived poke-nosing. In one case, he took the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay, a professor of law to the cleaners for daring his competencies.

An instance was when Bawa was appointed as the EFCC Chairman and Sagay, alluding to how Malami had dealt with Magu, advised that the AGF allow Bawa concentrate on his job and discharge his duties.

Malami had fired back and called Sagay a confused old man who had lost touch with reality.

In a statement signed by his media aide, Umar Gwandu, Malami said:
“There was nothing to worry about the new leadership of the EFCC which many Nigerians hail, unless the old man has skeletons in his cupboard. We advise the old man not to start having a hallucinated, mixed-up and confused vision of a prognostic future envisaged by his sentiments.

“Let Sagay make less noise but allow the young man discharge his duties with vigour and vibrancy. Nigerians will be happy if the old man would come out publicly to explain reasons why he is jittery over the development, which has been praised and commended by Nigerians.”

Perhaps, the most incongruent logic coming from Abubakar Malami was the blunder in comparing open grazing by Fulani herdsmen in the South-East to trading in spare parts by Igbo traders in the North.

Reacting to a call by southern governors to ban open grazing in the region, Malami said such a move was not only illegal but unconstitutional.

“It is about constitutionality within the context of the freedoms expressed in our Constitution. Can you deny the rights of a Nigerian? For example, it is as good as saying, perhaps, maybe, the Northern governors coming together to say they prohibit spare parts trading in the North…”

Malami’s unspoken words were that the Nigerian government did not have the political will to implement a modern animal husbandry system that involved ranching, and to which the country’s sub nationals have committed to implementing.

Not done with his plethora of blunders, Malami ordered the prosecution of those violating the ban on Twitter following the suspension of the micro-blogging platform by the Federal Government after it took down Buhari’s tweet about the Nigerian Civil War.

In a statement by Gwandu again, Malami said anyone found flouting the ban will be arrested and prosecuted.

“Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has ordered the prosecution of offenders of the federal government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.
“The AGF directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) at his office to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the Federal Government De-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria.
“The DPPF is to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communication Communication (NCC) and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.”

When asked what the offence would be since there is no law to back up the pronouncement, Gwandu said:
“We will invite you journalists at the time of prosecution, and they will know which laws are used to prosecute. The point is Twitter has been banned. Anybody should not try to use Twitter.
“At the time we are gathering them (alleged offenders) and assembling them in court, they will get to know which law they are violating.”

But as usual, in the heat of the moment occasioned by public outcry, Malami recanted the statement and said he was quoted out of context.

Another of Malami’s controversies was when he was alleged to have written a secret memo to Buhari to suspend the Nigerian constitution to be able to tackle the escalating insecurity in the country more effectively.

According to a national newspaper, Malami had, in the eight-page “secret memo” dated May 4, 2021, among other things, told Buhari that insecurity across Nigeria had reached a level that could no longer be checked by existing democratic techniques, as only a state of emergency promulgated by the president can help return the country to tranquility.

“The essence of declaration is to allow for suspension of constitutional and legal bureaucratic bottlenecks pertaining to matters of National Security with particular regards to fundamental rights guaranteed under Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution and processes and procedures relating to procurements, among others,” Malami was quoted.

But Malami, as usual, swiftly denied writing the memo and urged Nigerians to “disregard the media report as fabrications of anti-constitutional democratic stability in Nigeria.”

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Describing Malami as a “true democrat who believes in rules of law and tenant of democracy and constitutional order,” his sidekick, Gwandu said in a statement:

“The attention of the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, has been drawn to a false and fictitious report alleging that there was a secret memo emanating from the Office to the Presidency.
“The general publics are hereby asked to disregard the media report as fabrications of anti-constitutional democratic stability in Nigeria. Malami remains a true democrat who believes in rules of law and tenant of democracy and Constitutional order.
“It is antithetical to common sense to think that the holder of such coveted Office as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice will stoop to what was printed by the media.
“The government does not operate in secrecy as it is not a clandestine operation. Hence, Malami discharges his constitutionally recognised mandates in compliance with principles of transparency, openness and accountability.”

Who is Abubakar Malami?

Malami was born on April 17, 1967, in Birnin-Kebbi, Kebbi State. A thoroughbred Fulani, Malami had his early formal education at the Nassarawa Primary School, Birnin-Kebbi, before he completed his secondary school education at College of Arts and Arabic Studies.

In 1991, he graduated from the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, where he obtained a degree in law and was called to the bar in 1992. He also attended the University of Maiduguri where he obtained his master’s degree in Public Administration in 1994, after graduating, he began his legal practice, serving in various capacities including being a counsel and magistrate in Kebbi.

Malami was the National Legal Adviser of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, (CPC), the platform on which Buhari contested for the presidency unsuccessfully on two occasions.

He was actively involved in the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2013 as the resource person to the Manifesto Drafting Sub-Committee of Inter Joint Party Merger Committees between the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

In 2014, Malami contested for the governorship ticket of the All Progressives Congress in Kebbi State but lost the primaries to eventual winner, Atiku Bugudu.

On November 11, 2015, Buhari compensated Malami by appointing him the Minister for Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, making him the youngest minister in Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet.

In August 2019, he was re-appointed as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation by President Buhari for a second stint.

By Isaac Dachen

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